Monday, March 20, 2017

I Told You. I Exist. John 8:25



To keep up in politics, I often listen to NPR Politics Podcast.  They have a segment every Thursday at the end of the podcast called, “Can’t let it go.”  It is when they talk about something they just can stop thinking about – politics or otherwise.  This blog is my current, “Can’t let it go”.

A colleague and friend came into my office the other day and asked a question about a New Testament text.  He told me the text and I first looked at it in English – the ISV.  It was John 8:25. The ISV says, Then they asked him, "Who are you?" Jesus told them, "What have I been telling you all along?  My friend asked something like, “What is the connection between this verse and Exodos 3:14?  Someone else had asked him and he didn’t know the answer.  I read the verse again and was confused by the question.  Then I read the Russian Synodal translation.  It reads, Тогда сказали Ему: кто же Ты? Иисус сказал им: от начала Сущий, как и говорю вам.  The last part translates something like, “[I am the One] existing from the beginning, as I have already told you.” or maybe, “…as I am telling you.”  Well, I thought to myself, that is a pretty big difference.  There must be a reason it was translated this way in Russian.  I know that translations can sometimes be wrong, but, I don’t like to criticize them because for the most part they are often very good.  Also, for most people, their translation is the only Bible they have.  If I undermine people’s confidence in their Bible, I am doing damage to the Kingdom rather than helping to build it.  So, how do I disagree with a translation and not undermine confidence?  Good question.  My answer is by trying to understand how the translators came to their conclusions.  That way I can say that even if I disagree, it is still a good translation.

Back to John 8:25…my first thought was that there is probably a textual variant.  I looked at my UBS text and here is what I found, “ελεγον ουν αυτω, Συ τις ει? ειπεν αυτοις ο Ιησους, Την αρχην ο τι και λαλω υμιν? There is a variant.  The relative and indefinite pronouns, ο τι (that, which), in some manuscripts are combined into the conjunction, οτι (that or because).  That is significant, but it doesn’t help me see where the translation “the One existing” – Сущий came from.  So, I told my colleague that there was probably a textual variant that is not listed in the UBS.  I will have to check my NA at home.  That is exactly what I did, but it wasn’t much help at first.

The problem phrase is Jesus answer, “την αρχην ο τι και λαλω υμιν”.  The verb and indirect object are clear – “I am saying to you”.  The problem is the accusative, singular, feminine noun την αρχην, the relative pronoun ο, the indefinite pronoun τι and what to do with the conjunction και.  How do those go together with the main phrase?  We can add to the mix that instead of ο τι, some manuscripts have οτι with is translated either as “that” or “because”.  At this point, as I continued to not let this go, I reached out to several friends in the field for help.  Their input was very instructive.  Thanks especially to Dr. D.A. Black (Brother Dave - http://www.daveblackonline.com).

We can confidently translate λαλω υμιν as “I am telling you” or “I have been saying”.  This is a present tense verb and communicates the idea of continuous action in the present.  “I am telling you now.”  την αρχην can be translated, the beginning, severally, altogether, essentially, first of all, in the beginning.   If we take την αρχην as “the beginning” and ο τι as “that, which” and then και as “also” instead of “and”, then, because “the beginning” implies something that started in the past, we can imply an extra verb “I was telling you”.  Then we can bring it all together as something like, “I am telling you [now], that, which, [I have] also [been telling you from] the beginning.”  The UBS and NA have a question mark at the end of verse 25 and the TR does not.  If we rephrase the translation as a question we have something like, “Am I not telling you now, what I have been telling from the beginning?” or “How is it that I even speak to you at all?” (cf. Westcott, Milligan and Moulton from Biblehub.com).  This second one requires ο τι to be οτι and translated “that”.

Another option could be if we supply the verb “I am (εγω ειμι)” and take την αρχην as “essentially”, then we could translate Jesus’ answer as, “I am essentially that which I even speak to you.”.  We can even drop the “I am”, smooth out the English and have a dialogue something like this.  Scribes and Pharisees, “Who are you?”  Jesus, “[I am] essentially, that which I am telling you!” or “essentially, that which I have been telling you! (implied: all along!)” or the like.

A further option would be to supply the verb “I am” in between την αρχην and ο τι.  This is not unreasonable, because John attributed the same phrase to Jesus in the previous verse, “…unless you believe that I AM (εγω ειμι) then you will die in your sins.” (John 8:24).  If we supply την αρχην [εγω ειμι] ο τι και λαλω υμιν, (cf. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, second Edition. p. 191) then we can translate the phrase something like, “I AM the one from the beginning, as I am telling you.” or “…as I have been telling you.”  This seems to be the way the translators of the Synodal understood the verse and it is reasonable.  Metzger also points out that some of the Old Latin, Vulgate, and Gothic translations read “Principium, qui et loquor vobis”, which is very close to the Russian translation.  It is possible that the Latin translation had some influence on the Russian translators. (cf. again Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, second Edition. p. 191).

The Russian translation could also find further support from some church fathers.  If again we supply the verb “I am (εγω ειμι), the passage can be rendered something like, I am the beginning, that which I am even saying unto you [now]. (see Augustine, Bede, Lampe, and later by Wordsworth and some older commentators from Biblehub.com).

Therefore, while I don’t agree with the Synodal translation, I can still confidently say, that I understand why the translators made the decisions they did and that they are reasonable decisions.

I personally prefer a translation something like I wrote above, “I am telling you [now], that, which, [I have] also [been telling you from] the beginning.”  This option translates την αρχην as “[from] the beginning”, και as “also”, supplies “now” and the verb “telling you” a second time. There are at least two reasons I lean toward this meaning.  First, it seems too soon for Jesus to repeat the “I AM” statement.  Although, I will admit it is possible.  A frustrated, “I am not changing what I have been saying...” type of answer seems to fit the context better.  Also, according to the NA27, Bodmer Papyrus II P66 adds ειπον υμιν to the clause in a marginal note.  That produces a reading like this, [ειπον υμιν] την αρχην ο τι και λαλω υμιν.  That phrase would clearly translate something like, “I told you in the beginning, that which I am also telling you now.”  (cf. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, second Edition. p. 191).  In other words, the scribe of P66 clarified a difficult sentence and made it unambiguous.  P66 is a late second century/early third century manuscript found in Egypt that probably preserves an early second century (or so) reading.  This scribal “correction” tells me that in the late second century, in Egypt there was some confusion about the meaning of this sentence and at least some understood the sentence as “I told you from the beginning…”.  That is good evidence from Greek speakers who were closer, chronologically, geographically, culturally and linguistically, to the original document and context than we are.

Finally, I want to answer my friends original question.  No, I would not use John 8:25 as a reference to Exodus 3:14.  However, this is not a big deal because I think you can use either John 8:24 or 8:58 from the same dialogue as a connection to Exodus 3:14.  However, there are some nuances to this and a detour needs to be taken through the LXX and Isaiah.  But that is a different post.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Same God Debate




My son recently posted an article from Christianity Today (http://www.christianitytoday.com/gleanings/2016/january/do-muslims-christians-worship-same-god-wheaton-hawkins-ems.html) and some comments on Facebook about the recent “Same God Debate”.  I began to respond to some of the comments.  However, since my comments became a little too long for a Facebook post, so I decided to write a blog post instead.

Good article and glad that the debate is including missiologists.  But it seems to me that this debate has happened before.  I agree that there is much common ground between Islam, Christianity and Judaism – the “Abrahamic Faiths”.  It is important to find common ground between Christianity and any other worldview.  That point of connection may very well lead to the explanation and eventual acceptance of the Gospel.  However, just as correlation does not necessarily mean causation, common ground does not necessarily mean common nature or common object of worship.  It also seems to me that Paul addressed a very similar debate and had a very clear answer in the first century.  On the surface and in some very basic truths, just as Islam and Christianity has common ground, so does Judaism and Christianity.  We both accept the Old Testament as revelation from God.  We both agree that God is one.  God is the creator.  God is the sustainer.  God is the ultimate judge.  God is sovereign, all powerful, all knowing and so forth.  So what is the problem?  The problem is not belief in or zeal for God, the problem, in Paul’s words is zeal for God “in accordance with full knowledge”.  That full knowledge is embodied in Christ.  In writing about his “brethren according to the flesh”, to the Roman church, Paul says, “Brothers, my heart's desire and prayer to God about the Jews is that they would be saved.  (2)  For I can testify on their behalf that they have a zeal for God, but it is not in keeping with full knowledge.  (3)  For they are ignorant of the righteousness that comes from God while they try to establish their own, and they have not submitted to God's means to attain righteousness.  (4)  For the Messiah is the culmination of the Law as far as righteousness is concerned for everyone who believes.” (Romans 10:1-4).  Paul continues to explain what he means in chapter 10 and his argument culminates in phrases like, “If you declare with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. (10:9)” and “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. (10:13)”.  It seems to me that just as Paul captured the key difference between Christianity and Judaism in the first century, he may have also nailed the key difference between Islam and Christianity in the 21st century, “For they are ignorant of the righteousness that comes from God while they try to establish their own, and they have not submitted to God's means to attain righteousness. (10:3)”.

Paul makes it clear that as much as there is in common between Judaism and Christianity, the key difference is “God’s means to attain righteousness”, which is “the end of the Law with respect to righteousness” which is “Christ”.  In other words, in Paul’s mind, there is only one means of salvation and that is Christ.  This was also clearly stated by Jesus Himself, “I am the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father, except through Me. (John 14:6)”.

So, while we may agree that there is one God, that He has revealed Himself in the Old Testament, He is the creator, etc., we do not agree on His “means to attain righteousness” and to Jesus and Paul, this is the fundamental truth on which salvation – reconciliation with God rests.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

What does it mean to αυθεντειν a man?



Earlier this year I was confronted with one of those questions that prompted a strong desire in me to change the subject.  I was able to avoid the question for a while but it kept coming up in different situation with different people.  The question was something like this: “What does Paul mean when he writes ‘I do not allow a woman to have authority over a man”?  In other words, “What does it mean to αυθεντειν a man?”  I didn’t want to give a definite answer until I, at a minimum, did a casual study of the passage.  However, the more I looked at I Timothy 2:9-15 and specifically I Timothy 2:12, the more it seemed that almost every word, structure and grammar point of I Timothy 2:12 is debated (διδασκειν δε γυναικι ουκ επιτρεπω ουδε αυθεντειν ανδρος, αλλειναι εν ησυχια.).  We can add to this debate issues concerning cultural scope, audience and OT background.  Following is a list of just some of the questions that came to my mind:
  • Is Paul talking about women or wives?
  • If what Paul says in 2:9ff is strictly cultural and applies only to first century Ephesus, what textual clues tells the reader that this is so?
  • Are the instructions for men in 2:1-8 also not relevant for today or do they only apply to first century Ephesus?
  • Since we know that Paul had no problem with women prophesying and praying at public Christian gatherings, what does he mean by the term typically translated “remain quiet”?
  • Are the two infinitive two separate actions or does one compliment the other?  In other words, is there one or two prohibitions here?
  • What does he mean by the prohibition “to teach”?
  • What does he mean by the verb typically translated “to have authority over a man”?
  • How is Paul using the Old Testament in 13-15?
  • When Paul writes what is usually translated something like, “a women shall be saved by the bearing of children…” what does he mean?
Since my casual study turned into an overwhelming number of questions, I decided to start with, what I though was, the easiest question.  Paul uses the word αυθεντεω only here in the New Testament and since there was much debate about the meaning of the word, I planned on doing a simple lexical study.  I reasoned that a study of this type would clarify things a little.  I started in the usual way.  I did a survey of the entry in BAGD.  Since I Timothy 2:12 is the only place it is used in the New Testament and it is not common in the Old, the entry was short.  Next, I surveyed various commentators and soon realized that most of the lexical work was already done.

At this point, I was distracted for a couple of months because we were moving back to Odessa, Ukraine.  However, now that we are here in Odessa and I am having trouble sleeping, I think it is a good time to finish some of my thoughts.

After reading several commentaries, the most common translation of αυθεντειν ανδρος I read was “have authority over a man” or the like.  Kostenberger and Schreiner are a good representation of this translation and the rational behind it.  They looked at 85 different uses of the word in both the verbal and noun form from the New Testament, Old Testament, secular material and early church fathers.  Their research spanned a timeframe that includes the OT usages up to the sixth century AD.  Here is an example of their conclusions.
   
Upon analyzing these eighty-five currently known occurrences of the verb αυθεντεω, it becomes evident that the only unifying concept is that of authority.  Four outworkings of authority are reflected in the distinct meanings of the verb.

If out of the 85 known uses of the word “the only unifying concept is that of authority”, I was convinced that “have authority over a man” was a good translation of what Paul meant.  Further, as I continued my research, Douglass Moo convinced me that I was on the right track.  He says,

Translations of this Biblical Greek hapax range from the simple “have authority” (NIV; NASB) to the more nuanced “dictate” (Moffat) to the remarkable dissimilar “engage in fertility practices.”  …While the evidence is not extensive, the information outlined above allows for the fairly certain conclusion that αυθεντεω in I Tim. 2:12 must mean, “have authority.”  This is the meaning of the verb in one of the two pre-Christian occurrences, in the second century, and in the Church Fathers.  Furthermore, whatever the etymology of the noun be, it is clear that its meaning in the Hellenistic period was most often “master, authority.”

I have a lot of respect for both Kostenburger and Moo and their arguments were ringing true.  Moo makes a very strong statement when he says “…that αυθεντεω in I Tim. 2:12 must mean ‘have authority.”  It is both the only unifying concept and Moo added that “This is the meaning of the verb in one of the two pre-Christain occurrences.”   Case closed – the meaning must be “have authority”.  Then I decided to read one more commentary. 

I had never heard of Leland Wilshire, but I picked up his book.  He had a suggestion that messed with my thinking.  He suggested that since the only significantly unclear use of the word αυθεντεω was Paul’s use, we should limit our lexical study of the word to citations during the four centuries surrounding the New Testament period.  This made a lot of sense to me.  It seems more than reasonable that 200 years before and after Paul should provide us with a good idea of the semantic range of the word during Paul’s lifetime.  Languages and the range of word meanings are always in flux.  There are many examples of how words change their meaning over time or how their range of meaning widens or narrows over time.  Sometimes this can even happen during a generation.  I myself can think of several examples of words that have changed meanings during my lifetime.  I read Wilson’s analysis and followed his advice.  I made a timeline of the 85 occurrences, who used them and what the word meant.  I was surprised at the results and found myself persuaded by Wilshire’s arguments.  He says in part:

An analysis of this list shows that one can find very few citations during this four century period surrounding the New Testament that have the meaning of “exercising authority,” “holding sway or using power,“ or “being dominant” (the one citation from papyrus #1208 is in a variant form authentekotos and the word in Ptolemy is the variant authentesas).  Although one faces a frustrating mixture of contextual meanings at the time of the New Testament, the preponderant number of citations from this compilation have to do with self willed violence, criminal action, or murder or reference to the person who does these actions.

As I looked at my timeline, I couldn’t help but agree with Wilshire’s analysis.  I am not sure how he defines “very few citations”.  There are some usages that fall into the semantic range of “have authority”, but even most of those are second/third century.  As I further considered the data of that 400 year period, two things became very clear.  First, from the second century BC to the second century AD, the word αυθεντεω had a wide and somewhat bizarre semantic domain. The idea of “exercising authority” is included in the range of meaning, but so are ideas like the following (I will try to list them in semantically connected categories):

  • doer of a massacre, murderous, slayer, murderer
  • killer of self, being one’s own murderer, suicide
  • criminal, author of crimes, perpetrator of a crime, supporters of violent actions
  • perpetrator of sacrilege
  • builder of a tower
  • sole power, authority, to control, to dominate, to exercise one’s one jurisdiction, master

Second, starting in about the fourth century AD, where most of the 85 examples are from, the meaning is almost exclusively connected with authority.  This is not to say that the data was somehow skewed in favor of the meaning “have authority”.  It is simply that around the fourth century the word became more common.

That tells me a couple more things.  First, before the fourth century, the word was not a common word.  Second, something happened in the fourth century that both made αυθεντεω more common and narrowed the meaning of it to ranges connected with authority.  Third, during Paul’s time, the range of meaning of the word was very broad indeed.  Fourth, if we look at about 1000 years of evidence, the majority of meanings is “have authority”.  However, the majority of those usages occur 350 to 400 years after Paul.  If we remove the later usages, then we have no clear single meaning.  So where does that leave us?

Paul chose to use this word in place of his usual word for “authority”.  If we assume that he did this intentionally, it is reasonable to assume that the word αυθεντεω had a nuanced meaning that better fit what he wanted to communicate than his usual word εξυσια.  That fact alone throws doubt on the meaning of authority for αυθεντεω.  Second, we cannot come to a confident conclusion that Paul meant, “have authority” simply based on the number of uses.  During his time, the meaning of the word was not that clear or set.  Third, if Paul did indeed mean something like “have authority,” he probably had a nuanced meaning that this word communicated.  What is the nuanced meaning?  Good question.  I’m not sure, but it probably has something to do with violence and authority.  

So, what have I learned here? Maybe I should first say what I have not learned. I have not learned a clear meaning of what it means to αυθεντειν ανδρος in Paul. If I have contributed in any way to this discussion, I think, what I have done is ruled out that “to αυθεντειν a man” means simple to “have authority over a man.” Whatever Paul is saying is, at a minimum, more nuanced than that and possible quite different.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Attendant Circumstances (Great Commission Revisited)



After my last blog about the Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20, a friend of mine read it (thank you very much for being one of three) and sent me a comment. He said that I failed to interact with Wallace’s argument that the participle should be translated “Go”. Oops, I thought, I did miss that. I didn’t realize that Wallace did have an argument in his grammar specifically stating that Matthew 28:19 should be translated “Go”. So, with a bit of wounded pride, embarrassment and some fear and trepidation, I read Wallace’s argument. Actually, I was excited to hear a good argument for the “Go” translation. Happily, I found one in Wallace that both affirmed my thinking and gives reasons for a “Go” translation. He calls this an “Attendant Circumstance” participle. I didn’t know what that meant either. Wallace defines it as a participle used “…to communicate an action that, in some sense, is coordinated with the finite verb. In this respect it is not dependent, for it is translated like a verb. It is translated like a finite verb connected with the main verb by “and”.” He later adds, “If a participle makes good sense when treated as an adverbial participle, we should not seek to treat it as an attendant circumstance.” 

Wallace is simply saying that the participle, πορευθεντες, can be translated as a verb, “Go”. I actually didn’t dispute that in my original post. I said that the translation “Go” is permissible but maybe not the most accurate expression of Matthew’s thought. I do think it can be translated as “Go” but my contention is that the verbal idea can be better expressed in English than using two imperatives.

Since attendant circumstance participles are rare, Wallace also offers five criteria to determine if a giving participle might fall into this category and Mathew 28:19 meets all five. They are as follows:
  • The tense of the participle is usually aorist. Check. 
  • The tense of the main verb is usually aorist. Check. 
  • The mood of the main verb is usually imperative or indicative. Imperative. Check. 
  • The participle will precede the main verb. Check. 
  • Attendant circumstance participles frequently occur in narrative. Check. 
We are five for five, so Matthew 28:19 could be an attendant circumstance. That means that “…we must argue from sense rather than from translation.” and “… the relative semantic weight in such constructions is that a greater emphasis is placed on the action of the main verb than on the participle”.

Since Matthew chose to use a single imperative verb preceded by an aorist participle to convey Jesus command, the question is, "What is the sense of the command and how do we best express that in English? If we accept that this is an attendant circumstance, then according to Wallace, we agree to the following:
  • We have a participle being used to communicate an action that, in some sense, is coordinated with the finite verb. 
  • The semantic weight of the construction should emphasize the main verb. 
  • We must argue from sense rather than from translation 
  • and, I would add, that Matthew chose this construction over two commands. 
The sense is that we have a primary command with a very closely tied verbal idea from the participle. Can we combine those in such a way in English so that the command “Make disciples” is prominent and “Go” is closely tied but still secondary to the command? Do we have a structure in the target language (English) to communicate such an idea? I see two options.

The two command option:

We can use two commands “Go and make disciples”. While this is permissible, in English both verbs “go and make” have the same semantic weight. One could even argue, and many sermons bear this out, that the command “go” receives the greater semantic weight because it is the first command. This does not seem to completely line up with what Matthew wrote. As I argued in the previous post, Matthew could have used two imperatives. That would have been common, acceptable Greek. In that case, the sense would have been “Go and make disciples”. We essentially have a functional almost exact equivalent in English. However, this is not the case. By translating the attendant circumstance as two imperatives we are removing the nuance of the Greek construction. In other words, by reading the translation, we cannot determine if the original was two commands or a participle command.

The assumption – command option:

If we translate the participle as an assumption, I think we better capture the sense of what Matthew wrote. By way of illustration, I imagine that I’m sitting at the dinner table with my family enjoying a meal. Near the end of the meal, it comes to my mind that someone should clear the table and do the dishes. I might say to one of the children. “After you clear the table, wash the dishes.” The command is “wash the dishes”, but there is an assumption that before washing the dishes, they will clear the table. It is almost stronger than a command because there is no real opportunity to refuse. I could have said, “Clear the table and wash the dishes.” The semantic content is essentially the same but when I use a single verb, “wash”, the participial phrase, “after you clear the table”, is an action coordinated with the main verb and the semantic weight falls on “wash”. This structure seems to be in line with what Matthew wrote. The verbal idea of going is coordinated with the main verb but the semantic weight falls on “make disciples”. This can be done in English by what many have called the “Great Assumption”. In Jesus’ command to make disciples, the idea of going is assumed. “Since you are going [anyway], make disciples” or “After you have gone [aorist participle], make disciples.” Again, there is no opportunity to refuse to go. It is simply assumed that you will go.

In summary, I have no problem with calling Matthew 28:19 an attendant circumstance. I also have no problem with translating the participle as “go”. I simple think that translating Matthew 28:19 as the Great Assumption closely coordinated with the Great Commission, keeps the emphasis on the main verbal command and lines up very well with the sense of what Matthew wrote.

Friday, September 12, 2014

The Grammar of the Great Commission



Knowledge of ancient languages is just one tool (an important but not essential tool) in the toolbox of study. I am a firm believer that a person does not need to know Koine Greek in order to understand the New Testament. I am convinced that, with careful study, a person can determine the original intent of the original author to the original audience without knowing the original language. Culture, textual context, theological flow, historical background, purpose, theme, etc. can all serve to inform the student of the Bible. I also think that our English translations are pretty good. But, even better, we also have multiple translations. That means we can compare translations and where there is disagreement among translators, there is probably need for further study of grammar/textual/structure questions. For the person who does not know the language, this is where the commentary becomes very useful. In English we have a rich array of dictionaries, commentaries, surveys, journal articles and computer software to help us determine the nuance meanings of the language.

That said, I do think that knowing New Testament Greek is a great blessing, privilege and responsibility. It can often give insight into a passage that would take much longer to figure out through commentaries, lexicons and Bible software. Further, the drawback of working through secondary resources like these is that you are at the mercy of the author of the commentary. You can only see the language through his or her eyes. This can be a problem because, in my experience, some of those who do know some Greek often focus almost exclusively on lexical meanings. For example, we often hear statements like, “Paul used the word “fill in the blank” and that word really means “fill in the blank”. Sometimes this is significant information, but often it is just filler. One good test of significance is to test the meaning the preacher/commentator gives against the meaning in the translated language. If the meanings are the same, the preacher/commentator has told you nothing. Here is an example from a commentary. I have not cited the commentary on purpose.

The word "better" is pleiona, which means "greater" or "more important" as suggested by its use in Luke 12:23: "Life is more than food, and the body more than clothes."

When I read this, I asked myself, “What does the word better mean in English?” The definition “greater or more important” is not very precise but is more than sufficient. Better does typically mean something like “greater or more important.” So, at most, the author has told me that the word translates well into English. In that case, why explain it? In other words, knowing that the Greek word here is pleiona adds no meaning to the text.

Often lexical meanings are significant because sometimes words do not translate well from one language to another. Or a particular word or phrase may have a cultural meaning tied to the time period of the document. In these cases lexical analysis can be very insightful. However, it has been my limited experience that the grammar more often gives insight into meaning than lexical studies. The Great Commission is a Great example.

The typical translation of Matthew 28:19 is “Go and make disciples”. Even though there are two commands (Go and Make), most sermons I have heard, most commentaries I have read and most missionary literature I have read focus more on the Go command and the Make command is often in the shadows. I am not going to argue that this translation is wrong, I am going to argue that there is a better (Greek word pleiona) translation. My comments will focus on the two English commands “Go” and “Make”. I will deal with the latter first.

There is no substantial disagreement about the meaning of the verb “Make” except to say that the verb used requires the addition of the word “Disciples” in English. The single verb in Greek needs two words in English to express the meaning. That is because in English there is no single verb that clearly approximates the meaning of the Greek verb. However, the verbal phrase “make disciples” does express the meaning well. It is not a common verb in the New Testament (3 uses in Matthew and one in Acts). However it easily understood and well translated. It is also a command. We know this from the grammar. It is in the imperative mood. As the main verb in Matthew 28:18-20, it functions as the primary verb and Jesus’ primary command.

In contrast, there is a debate about the word for “Go”. This verb is a common word in the New Testament (at least 154 uses in the New Testament including 27 uses in Matthew). The meaning is simple. The word means “go” or “depart”. In other words, the English word “go” has a very similar range of mean as the Greek verb. The debate is connected with the grammar. Again, decision about grammar, rather than lexical meaning, will influence translation and interpretation. The word is a participle, yet in most English translations it is translated like an imperative verb. Why is this? It is because a Greek participle can sometimes function as an imperative verb. It is creatively called the “imperatival participle.” So that tells us that the translation “Go and make disciples” is permissible. However, I want to argue that it is not the most accurate expression of what Matthew wrote. Matthew expressed Jesus’ words in a single complex command and I want to argue that we can express the functional equivalent in English by also using a single complex command. I will offer just two arguments for a great commission with just one command.

In his large grammar, Daniel Wallace makes the following comment about the imperatival participle, “The participle may function just like an imperative. This use of the participle is not to be attached to any verb in the context, but is grammatically independent. The imperatival participle is quite rare” A little later Wallace quotes Robertson.“In general it may be said that no participle should be explained in this way that can properly be connected with a finite verb.” Finally, Wallace concludes, “This is an important point and one that more than one commentator has forgotten.” If we accept this as good advice and apply it to Matthew 28:19, we see that the participle (go) can be (and very naturally is) connected to a finite verb (Make disciples). And if the participle can be connected to a finite verb then there is no need for the participle to function as a verb. Matthew 28:19 has an aorist participle and an aorist active imperative main verb. The verb is “Make disciples” – imperative. An aorist participle is usually used with a main verb to show antecedent action. So the idea is something like this: “After you have gone” or “Since you are going anyway” – main verb. So the first reason I think we should translate the Great Commission as just one command is because Matthew used a main verb to which the participle can be connected.

I think the second reason forms an even stronger argument. Matthew was a good writer and I am sure he wanted to convey Jesus’ words as accurately as possible. The assumption is that he would use all the grammatical tools and skills at his disposal to record the words and actions of Jesus. So, the question is this. “If Matthew wanted to clearly write the command “Go”, could he easily do that in Greek?” The answer grammatically is yes. That brings up a second question. Since the Greek language allows the imperative “Go”, did Matthew know the language well enough to use that structure? Again, the answer is yes. We know this because he often did exactly that. Here are just two examples.

When it was time for Joseph to take Mary and Jesus back to Israel from Egypt, Matthew used the imperative of “Go” to express what the angel told them to do - “go back to the land of Israel. (Matthew 2:20)”  The second example is a little more interesting and shows just how flexible Matthew was in the use of this particular word. When Jesus is sending out the 12 in Matthew 10, Matthew uses the imperative “Go to the lost sheep of Israel” in verse 6. Then in verse 7, he uses the present participle (same verb but different tense as he does in 28:19). “As you go” or “while you are going, (command) preach…”. Here we have a near parallel to Matthew 28:19 and it is clear in the second use (verse 7) that the participle is subordinate to the imperative. “Go and while you are going, preach”. More importantly, this example shows that Matthew clearly knows how to use this word as an imperative or participle.

So, here is the question. Why do so many English translations translate the Great Commission as two commands “Go and Make disciples”? Answer: “Attendant Circumstance”, but that is a different blog entry. My main point is this. As seen above, the grammar, not the lexical meaning, shows us that Matthew expressed what Jesus said using one clear command– Make disciples.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Some Thoughts on Ephesians 4 - Part V (The Targum)


I think this will be the last of my thoughts on Ephesians 4:7-9 for a while.  If we assume that Paul was not quoting the Psalm directly but rather was quoting the Targum or an early version of the Targum, then Paul’s use of the quote is not so daunting a problem.  It is true that the Targum we have is of a late date, but it probably is a representation of an earlier interpretation of the Psalm (Abbott, p. 112).  It also turns out that the Targum has a close parallel with the way Paul uses the quote.  Lincoln points out that "in the Targum on the Psalms the concept of receiving has been changed to that of giving in the same way as in Eph 4:8 - "You have ascended to heaven, that is, Moses the prophet; you have taken captivity captive, you have learnt the words of the Torah; you have given it as gifts to men."  (Lincoln, WBC p. 242, 243). Barth further clarifies the point.  "There is a Targum on Ps 68 in which Moses is identified as the one who ascended on high.  The words "you received gifts" are paraphrased by 'You have learned the words of the Torah, you gave them as gifts to the sons of men.'" (Barth p. 475).  So now, according to the Targum, it is Moses who ascends Sinai or heaven, Moses has taken captivity captive, Moses learned the words of the Torah (probably a reference to the giving of the 10 commandments) and Moses has given gifts to men.  This seems to be more in line with what Paul is saying.  This is especially true when we remember that Jesus was often identified with Moses or the prophet Moses spoke of.  So, under this view it seems that Paul is using something of a typological hermeneutic.  He references the Targum commentary on Psalm 68:18 and replaces Moses with Jesus.  In other words, Paul considers Jesus the better or perfect Moses. 

  • Moses ascent on Sinai becomes an imperfect picture of Jesus ascent to heaven. 
  • Jesus ascent to heaven becomes the perfected picture of Moses’ ascent on Sinai. 
  • The receiving of the 10 commandments by Moses corresponds with Jesus receiving gifts.
  • Moses descent from Sinai corresponds with Jesus descent to the earth. 
  • The giving of the law, by Moses, to the people corresponds to the giving of gifts, by Jesus, to the church. 

If this is indeed the parallel that Paul has in mind, it is very difficult to interpret the “descent to the lower parts of the earth” as the incarnation, burial or the descent into Hades.  It is difficult because in the Targum Moses ascended, learned the words of the Torah and returned and gave them as gifts to men.  The ascent happened and then the descent.  If “the lower parts of the earth” is the incarnation, burial or descent to Hades then the order must be the opposite.  He must descend and then ascend to heaven. 


There are two more points that I think point us to the interpretation of, “lower parts of the earth” as the descent of the Spirit at Pentecost.  The first is that in 4:10, Paul makes it very clear that the one who ascended and the one who descended are the same person.  This would not be necessary if he were talking about the incarnation, burial or descent into Hades.  It was a basic assumption in the early church that the Jesus who was incarnate, died, was buried, rose and ascended to the Father was all the same Jesus.  If this is true then why make sure that it is clear that the one who ascended and descended is the same person.  The second point that points to Pentecost is the context of the passage.  The one who descended and gave the gifts, gave the gifts to the church.  The gifts were apostle, prophets, evangelists, pastor’s and teachers (or possible pastors who can teach).  The purpose of the gifts were to equip the saints to do the work of ministry and build up the body of Christ.  In the New Testament, the one who gives these kinds of gifts to the church is, without question, the Holy Spirit.  Jesus clearly says that He will send the Spirit after He (that is Jesus Himself) ascends (John 16:7).  So by Jesus words, He must ascend to the Father in order to send the Holy Spirit.  In Paul’s words Jesus did ascend to the highest heaven and descended in the Holy Spirit to give gifts to men.  Under this interpretation, it is easy to understand why 4:10 is necessary.  Not everyone would understand or assume that in a Trinitarian sense the one who ascended and the one who descended are the same.


G.B. Caird gives further insight by pointing out that in the inter-testamental period, Psalm 68 was an appointed Psalm for Pentecost and the giving of the Law at Sinai had also become an important part of the celebration at Pentecost (Caird p. 540).  This strengthens the idea that Paul has the idea of Pentecost in mind.  It is logical that he would use a Psalm that educated believers understood as connected to Pentecost.


Finally, our study or at least my study has brought me to the conclusion that when Paul says that the one who ascended also descended “to the lower parts of the earth” he is speaking of the descent of the Spirit of Christ at Pentecost.  In summary form the things that most influenced this conclusion were the following:


  • The genitive “of the earth” could lead to four possible conclusions.
    • Incarnation
    • Burial
    • Descent into Hades
    • Descent of the Spirit of Christ at Pentecost
  • The quotation of Psalm 68:18 significantly differs from the LXX.  This led to the possibility that he was not directly quoting the Psalm from the LXX.
  • The wording of the quotation in Ephesians does follow very closely the wording in the Targum.
  • If we see Moses as a type of Christ then the Targum interpretation of Psalm 68:18 seems to follows Paul’s.
  • The order of events Paul seems to be presenting is an ascent then a descent.  This does not make sense if he has in mind the incarnation, burial, or descent into Hades.
  • In Verse 4:10 Paul makes it very clear that the one who ascended and descended are the same person.  This seems unnecessary if Paul has in mind the incarnation, burial, or descent into Hades.
  • Finally, Paul chose a Psalm that was connected with Pentecost.  He was in Ephesus a long and could easily have taught many about the Targum interpretation of Psalm 68:18 and its connection with Pentecost.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Some Thoughts on Ephesians 4:7-9 (Part IV)


Psalm 68:18 and the LXX in Ephesians 4:7-9

In addition to the difficult grammar, rhetorical devices and textual issues in the passage, Paul also cites the OT.  Or at a minimum, he makes an illusion to the OT.  The citation/illusion is of Psalm 68:18.  This citation/illusion poses some additional problems.  Following is the text from Ephesians 4:8 and the text from Psalm 68:18 (LXX).


αναβας εις υψος ηχμαλωτευσεν αιχμαλωσιαν, εδωκεν δοματα τοις ανθρωποις Eph. 4:8
ανεβας εις υψος, ηχμαλωτευσας αιχμαλωσιαν, ελαβες δοματα εν ανθρωπωPs. 68:18


It is clear that there is a significant difference in the two phrases.  The major difference is the second half of the statement.  The LXX renders the second half of Ps. 68:18 as ελαβες δοματα εν ανθρωπω (you received gifts among men).  Paul writes εδωκεν δοματα τοις ανθρωποις (you gave gifts to men).  If this is a citation then the change of the verb from “received” to “gave” is not only significant but problematic.  Barth phrases the problem this way, "The author of Ephesians is guilty of willful distortion of the Scriptures - unless it can be shown that his interpretation makes sense in terms of the use and understanding of the psalm contemporary with him." (Markus Barth P. 472).


These and other difficulties in Ephesians 4:8 have caused no little frustration among commentators.  Walvoord and Zuck in their two volume commentary, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, provide a good example of the difficulty many have reconciling Ephesians 4:8 and Psalm 68:18.  In the first volume on the Old Testament, speaking of Psalm 68:18, they say, "Psalm 68:18 was referred to by Paul in Ephesians 4:8 (cf. comments there).  However, rather than quoting the Hebrew, Paul apparently followed the Jewish interpretation of the day (the Targum), ..." (Walvoord and Zuck (Old Testament) P.  843).  So, according to the commentary on Psalm 68, Ephesians 4:8 is not a quotation of the LXX but the Targum.  However, in the second volume on the New Testament they say, "Ephesians 4:8 includes a quotation from the Old Testament,...Most think it quotes Psalm 68:18 with five minor and two major changes. ... However, it is better to think that Paul was not quoting one particular verse of the psalm but rather that he was summarizing all of Psalm 68, which has many words similar to those in Psalm 68:18" (Walvoord and Zuck (New Testament) P. 634).  According to the commentary on Ephesians, Paul is not quoting the LXX or the Targum but is summarizing the Psalm itself.  This kind of confusion demonstrates that there is not an easy answer to the apostle's choice of wording. 


Another complication is the context of the Psalm itself.  The Psalm is a tribute to the triumph of Yahweh.  The people flee before Yahweh, His chariots are many thousands, He was with them at Sinai in holiness (v.17), etc.  After this reference to Sinai comes verse 18.  “You ascended to the heights, you took captives. You received gifts among mankind, even the rebellious, so the LORD God may live there.”  The context seems to be one of the LORD ascending, taking captives and receiving gifts in order to establish something permanent  - “so that LORD God may live there”.  The triumph, ascending and taking captive also seems somehow connected to Sinai but not to the Messiah.


In contrast Paul uses Psalm 68:18 as proof that God has given each one of us in the church gifts according to the measure of Christ (4:7).  He seems to change the intent of the Psalm and connect it to Christ rather than to Yahweh.  In the Psalm it is the LORD receiving gifts, in Ephesians 4 the men are receiving gifts.  In the Psalm the men are giving the gifts to the LORD, in Ephesians 4, Christ, the one who ascended and descended, is giving the gifts to men.


The problem rests on the assumption that Paul is quoting the LXX.  This is an understandable assumption not only because of the similar wording but also Paul introduces the quote with the words, “That is why God says…”.  However, if Paul were quoting or paraphrasing some other authoritative work, the problem would go away.


It turns out that Walvoord and Zuck’s Old Testament commentary may have the most viable solution.  Lincoln and Abbott agree with the first volume and point out that the major deviation from the LXX agrees with the Targum. (Lincoln, WBC P. 242, Abbott P. 112).  So, it appears that what we have is a either a quotation or an illusion to the Targum or an early form of the Targum rather than a direct quotation of the LXX.


So, it may be that the Targum’s interpretation of the Psalm is what Paul is making reference too.  This needs to be explored further.  I guess I will have to write a Part V.